Civilitas

When memories knock on the door

It has been a long time since I didn’t write something in my blog, and this evening is one of these evenings in which you look back, long the path you took and try to remember things, people, situations.
It was more than 10 years ago, oh my God… nobody told me that time would have run so fast… I was living one of the most remarkable period of my life, when I was student at the University of Bologna. I don’t have many pictures of this period, but I guess it’s normal, no smartphone, no camera, no selfie… and nevertheless my memories are quite clear, even if I don’t have facebook remembering me that.
My best friend Francesco was late with his studies, therefore for the Italian law (back at the time), he had to leave for military service or to choose civil service for some kind of associations. He was taken in an association assisting disabled people. In this way I got to know AIAS, a wonderful group which works to give a normal life to people affected by many different disabilities. They had a program of volunteering, for the free-time. It was simply based on this: if a person with a disability wants to go to an event, a concert, a sport match, whatever, you will be his/her assistant with a free entrance. You can imagine that, for a young student with no money, the opportunity to go for free to events and to do, at the same time, something good, it’s really attractive.
I had to pass an interview with the responsible for the free time. Alberto, the most improbable manager you could have imagined… earrings, unshaven, easy-going, but with the perfect knowledge and competences to handle this job. Alberto told me: “You know… many people start but they don’t find what they expect, or they simply don’t have the right character to handle certain situations. So, we always ask to the new volunteer two test evenings, in a center called Platani. You just have to help people to have dinner, give them food. It’s absolutely nothing difficult, but some people don’t continue after the experience.” I went in this center, and Alberto was right… it was one of the most touching experience of my life. Quite naively, I never had direct contact with disabilities or sufferance in general. The people there could not eat by themselves… they didn’t have the hands to do so… some of them could move only their head. Of course, my job was not strictly necessary, the center had quite high standard services, but it was a way to share a life moment, like dinner, with people from outside, chat a little bit. The first evening I didn’t speak too much. I admit the 20-years old boy was a bit shocked to feed other people like chicks… but the second evening, and the third were much better!
Alberto called me, asked me about my experience, if I would have liked to continue: “Yes, of course, I can continue, I like to come here, and it’s not a difficult job for me to feed people”. “No” said Alberto, “this was just a test, we need you to do different stuffs. For dinner, there are many old women volunteering. We need dynamic and young people for different activities… We want to give people the opportunity to live as much as possible a normal life, in any activity they want. Therefore, your behaviour doesn’t have to be the one of an old pitiful woman. You just have to be yourself, and be with them like you would be with any other person. They don’t look for pity, neither for the friend of their life, if you have to say f*ck yourself to someone, just do it.”

From that point on, I had a series of wonderful experiences, meeting amazing people. I can’t write everything here, but I want to share some of the most beautiful memories I have (all names will be invented):
– I remember when with a group of 10 people, we went to an attraction park called Mirabilandia, not far from Bologna. I was driving the small bus and in charge of Luca in wheel chair. We did all the attractions that were allowed also for disabled people and more… Luca was light and skinny, so for me was an easy job to just take him on my shoulders, when needed. At the end of the highest attraction Luca vomited… but he was totally happy.
– Bruno was an intellectual disable and didn’t speak too well, but he was the best mate you could ask for going to drink in a pub. He had a great quality. He was able to choose at a first glance the most beautiful girl of the bar and go directly to her to have a chat. I feel a bit guilty, I admit in this way I got many telephone numbers…
– Giulia and Giuseppe were a couple of people with Down Syndrome, they were dating… yes you understood well, they were dating! In the most innocent way you can imagine, and the cutest couple I ever seen. Giulia lived in an institute far from the city, and Giuseppe lived in the city centre with his family. I was the “chauffeaur” of that evening, just driving them until a kind of Village Fair and back home. I was almost invisible and really discreet, just enjoying the Fair as well.
– Filippo was a big fan of the local Basketball team “Fortitudo” and he didn’t want to miss a match. He had down syndrome, and he was really strong… really really strong… I had some difficulties to calm him down when getting too excited for the game, but hey… he was a real supporter! Never giving up, even when Fortitudo lost!
– I remember a couple of volunteers which organized their wedding in one of these centers. Old Granma’s and Grandpa’s volunteered to cook an amazing dinner, and me and other youngers were serving at the tables. It was an hard job, but was so fun!
I could continue for hours, with other funny stories, and people but this post is already getting so long, and many things I prefer to keep for me and enjoying the memory.
I started my PhD and I didn’t have too much time anymore (or at least, this is, what I tell myself), I left Italy, and I went to live abroad, where my language skills were surely a limit (or at least, this is what I tell myself), so I stopped my volunteer activity.
Ten years passed, and it’s perhaps time to don’t let this experience just a memory.

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PhD Café

PhDcaféScientific community is well aware of the importance of divulgation in society for human progress, and many scientists, all over the world, are committed to spread science trhough conferences, television, social network and so on. Great public attention, for example, was recently given to the wonderful results of ESA and NASA with Rosetta and New Horizon projects.

Despite all these efforts and encouraging results, however, looks like Science is struggling in communicating the scientific “forma mentis”. A critical approach and common sense. Since the publication of the  “The Sceptical Chymist” of Boyle, we would  expect a society less superstitious, more equal and definetely more engaged. We are a technological society but not yet scientific, this is a fact.

To overcome this problem will not be easy and multiple strategies must be applied. However I see a main way to follow, which is: We need to make Science POP. Simply popular! We speak and do a lot, in the scientific community,on how to promote Science between youngs and women, but we  speak less about how to improve our imagine on the public eyes. Let’s just think at how many villains, in comics series and movies, have an academic title: Dr. Doom, Dr Octopus, Dr. Claw, Dr. Evil and so on… Even in classic literature, our reputation doesn’t go better, just think to Dr. Jeckyll and Dr. Frankenstein.  Excellents minds, basically good… but totally deconnected from Society! Unable to distiguish good from evil, because too busy in their specific and complicated studies.

We know this is not true! We know that generally  Scientists are well open to Society and live in Society, taking care of the others and following many other passions. We know that Science is funny, that we are curious, that we are not emotionless but full of enthusiasm. How to communicate this to people? How to make Science Pop?

One main issue is language… I already wrote about this in a post called “Why Science shouldn’t speak only English and why native english speakers should care about it“. I’ll repeat again: I don’t mean we should stop writing articles in english!! I just mean we should start to divulgate Science in all the possible languages we know! Divulgation in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Ostrogoths…  When all the languages of the planet will lose the scientific vocabulary, it will be difficult to make Science popular!

The other issue is the subject who leads the message! A young inspired scientist, like a PhD student, is the most enthusiast about his research. He/She is much more connected to the world of youngs and easily taken as an example to follow. There are PhD students of all nationalities, all over the world, and we have the most powerful tool of mass-communication of all the time.

A youtube video, where in an guided interview, PhD students explain their research, in any language (with subtitles also).  Through successive simplification, deconstruct their research until the minimal comprehensible terms by everybody. To then rebuild all the meaning and understand the impact on society of their work.

Imagine now a common hashtag for that, like #PhDcafe, becoming viral on the web, with hundreds of interviews structurated in this way. From any part of the world, in any languages! It could even become the beginning of a community. Everybody could use the hashtag, with the only restriction of course, to respect scientific ethic and integrity.

So, here the Episode-0 of this PhD café, where I interview a French PhD-student. The video start with an introduction in Italian to explain the principle and it continues in English with subtitle in Italian. This video is addressed to an italian audience, because italian is my mother tongue. But if you want to do the same in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese, Ostrogoths… etc. Just DO IT and use the hashtag #PhDcafe

Et j’entends siffler le train

TreniTrains are windows where we can see running many different lives. You can decide to exclude yourself. Reading a journal, playing with your phone, hiding your eyes behind sunglasses. Don’t cross the glance of the others. But sometimes you can’t turn the head on the other side. Something inside refuse to think that’s normal.

Regional train between Ventimiglia and Nizza in a hot spring day of May. A train like many, with the characteristic smell of iron and piss. Crossing the border we arrive in Menton, first French city, in a borderless Europe. Police everywhere checking the train. They do their job you think, it will not take too long. They get nervous, they found something. No, they found someone. No they found many. People. Desperates. Emigrants. They were hiding in the interspace between two wagons, six of them. I could just see them from the back, head down, walking slowly.

The train move, next station: Montecarlo. In front of us a group of people, two men and two women. Beautiful, smiling, suntanned, fashion. They did shopping, they had bags of Gucci, Dior, Armani. It looked like an episode of “Sex & the City”, with the blonde woman around forty, crossing the legs and waving hair with studied movements.

You feel the contradiction and it hurts. You think that something is wrong. You feel hunger. Against Society? Governments? Emigrants? Police? Consumerism? And yet… it’s your turn, your station arrived, you go out of the train. The dirty glass of the train window reflected my face, the most hypocrite character of this situation: … the silent observer.

The waste of a conference

borsseIn my personal experience, a conference was never a waste, I was really lucky because I had the chance to travel a bit, to meet really smart and nice people, eat good food (not always), exchange ideas and occasionally even be interested by the topic (just kidding), I am never… (I am kidding now).

Anyway I believe to be this kind of person that in conference could be defined a “collector”…. I was really used to get crazy for collecting all the possible useless gadgets, pens, books, and of course “The Bag of the conference”!! But I am now a “Regretful collector”… I realized how many useless plastic / PVC / acrylic bags I collected…. and they are all broken… They broke just after the first or second week…. Useless plastic things made in china…  And I found particularly incoherent the use of those bags in conferences dedicated to “sustainability” and “green chemistry”, considering that for 200 or 300 participants, you realease in the environment such a potential waste.

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I instead particularly appreciated the initiative of 2 Universities, the University of Salerno (Italy) and the University of Freiburg (Germany), that while hosting a conference, provided to their guests, bags completely made of cotton (or some mixed fiber). These bags (miracle of modern technology) not only didn’t break, but they are still of use for shopping. If one day they should break, it will be possible to repair, and if one day I’ll decide to throw them away, I’ll not feel so guilty, after all it’s not such a waste.

Relativismo del Bene e del Male, una Liberazione mancata

liberazione25 Aprile 2015. La primavera intanto, tarda ad arrivare. L’Italia è stata liberata, e gli italiani oggi scelgono liberamente la propria prigione personale. Ho sempre sperato che l’avvento di internet e delle nuove comunicazioni avrebbero favorito l’evoluzione sociale dell’uomo, di una rivoluzione culturale, di un risveglio interiore. E invece non consideravo che i luoghi comuni, la volgarità, i video virali, la pornografia, viaggiano più velocemente delle idee.

Polemiche sul 25 Aprile ci sono sempre state, persone che pongono sullo stesso piano le atroci violenze commesse dai fascisti e dai partigiani. Fu  guerra civile signori… vi aspettate forse che la parola “civile” trasformi la parola “guerra” in una scampagnata? La guerra è infame, è orribile, abbrutisce l’uomo.

Conservando, sempre e comunque il rispetto per ogni persona deceduta, non si puo’ in alcun modo porre sullo stesso piano gli ideali di libertà che hanno mosso il movimento partigiano e l’ideologia di morte del fascismo. Questo Relativismo infame che equipara il Bene e il Male ha cancellato oggi il giusto biasimo della società, verso tutti quei poveri idioti, che pur avendo vissuto nella bambagia dell’era consumistica, si ritengono fascisti.

La libertà ci è stata donata, sta a noi farne buon uso.

Buon 25 Aprile.

W la Resistenza, W l’Italia, W la Repubblica

Nepotismo e Corruzione divorano Innovazione e Progresso

nepoismo e corruzioneUn interessantissimo articolo sulla rivista Nature,  mostra lo studio statistico, nei vari paesi europei, della relazione fra il livello di corruzione e innovazione, ricerca, sviluppo e fughe di cervelli.

Questo il link:  http://www.nature.com/news/corruption-good-governance-powers-innovation-1.16927?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews

Potete immaginare la magra figura del nostro bel paese, che come al solito, in compagnia di Grecia, Bulgaria e Romania, copre gli ultimi posti di una indecorosa classifica. Potremmo stare ore a discutere di come, nepotismo e corruzione, siano endemiche in Italia, accusare gerarchie e politici; e poi tornare alla nostra vita, evitando di rilasciare scontrini ed evadendo le tasse. Ma qui stiamo parlando di qualcosa di specifico, di ricerca e sviluppo, di innovazione. E allora da cosa nasce questa piaga purulenta e come estirparla?

Non voglio pensare che tutto sia corruzione in Italia. Che le cariche universitarie si passino di padre in figlio. Non mi piace pensare che per vincere un concorso pubblico si debba lavorare nello stesso posto per dieci anni e riceverlo poi per concessione. Ma se i risultati sono quelli mostrati nelle statistiche di Nature, è evidente che ci sono almeno due problemi. Il primo a livello deontologico, cioè una larga fetta dell’accademia italiana non ritiene la meritocrazia una virtu’! O meglio… ritiene che lavorare sottopagato nello stesso gruppo di ricerca per  anni sia piu’ meritevole di aver conseguito grandi risultati altrove. Il secondo problema è di tipo tecnico, la modalità con cui si svolge un concorso pubblico.

Mi spiego meglio.  Negli altri Paesi, in generale (poi ovviamente ogni Paese ha le sue regole specifiche), per ottenere una posizione accademica,  si presenta un progetto personale. La commissione ti esamina, valuta il tuo curriculum, ti pone domande scottanti, ti mette in crisi.  Poi sceglieranno uno fra i vari candidati presenti.  I candidati interni, cioè quelli che hanno già studiato o lavorato nello stesso istituto, sono esclusi. La ragione è che si vuole favorire innovazione e progresso. Cosa puo’ portarti di nuovo qualcuno, che per anni, ha fatto le stesse cose, nello stesso posto?

In Italia il concorso pubblico si svolge per iscritto (anonimo), su di un argomento specifico, che non è il tuo progetto innovativo. Il tema è sul progetto di cui si occupa da dieci anni il candidato prescelto. Indovinate chi vincerà? Sostanzialmente l’esame viene ritagliato sul profilo del candidato vincente. E sembra anche giusto, perchè, sto povero cristo ha lavorato e sputato sangue per anni per avere quel posto. In fondo siamo tutti figli di mamma, vuoi davvero mandarlo in mezzo alla strada?

Peccato che quel posto, non è fatto per assumere un fornaio, un ciabattino, un operaio specializzato, che sono lavori stupendi ed onorevoli. Ma al ricercatore non sarà richiesta una pagnotta da un chilo, ma innovazione e progresso.  Il panettiere, il ciabattino e l’operaio, chiederanno al ricercatore  nuovi medicinali e tecnologie alternative. Ed è questo il suo dovere.

In sostanza la modalità dell’esame è corrotta dal principio, dallo stesso metodo.  Grande responsabilità è anche dovuta a coloro che assumono e illudono per anni Post-Doc e ricercatori e tempo determinato, con contratti annuali rinnovati di anno in anno, per anni, con la promessa che un giorno sarà il loro turno.

The Big Lie of Economic Growth

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The Crisis! Help! We need to be more competitive! We need to be more flexible! We need reforms! We need to produce and consume more! We need ECONOMIC GROWTH!  This is, more or less, what we hear since eight years. This is the biggest LIE of our generation. We don’t need economic growth to overcome the crisis, we need SUSTAINABILITY and JUSTICE.

In  an adiabatic and isolated system, like planet Earth, the constant economic growth can be reached only to an high and bloody price. In a closed system, if someone grow up, someone else has to perish. And when this gear get stuck, often a war starts. A war which all destroy and that everything make start again.

Each time we use electricity, each time we take a car, each time we buy any cheap object, do we realize the chain of sufference and pain that is  behind our wealth?  Don’t take these words for ideology! These are not “neo-communist” or “extreme-christian” positions, these are scientific considerations. Behind our wealth, there is the misery of someone else! A misery which generate ignorance, intollerance, terrorism, war.

Sustainability and justice can be the answer to many social and environmental problems. However we can’t expect that politics will chose sustainability and justice for us, because they don’t have any interest to do it.  And again… these are not the words of “conspiracy“. There is no conspiracy, there are only too many banks and too many companies inside our parliaments.

Only consumers can have the will and the power to stop growing and to be sustainable. Consumers can start a new market! “Where the object was done and by Who? Was he/she paied honestly? How much CO2 was produced by the making and shipping of this item? How much of it is recyclable? etc etc

We live in a small world, the decisions of few effect the destiny of many.

Intrum Justitia, credit recovery or professional extorsion?

 

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Moving from a country to another brings always many problems, especially to a bureaucratic level. I am generally really careful with all my documents and I make sure that all my contracts and bills are regularly paied and closed. When I left Switzerland I closed my telephonic contract, and, as usual in this country, I gave to the company an official document of the canton which certified my new address.  I therefore quickly forgot all this story.

Ten Months later I received an intimidating letter, from an international credit-recovery company that I didn’t know, “Intrum Justitia“. They were  asking money for a generic service given by my former telephonic company, in the last ten months. I was, of course, quite surprised and worried by the fact that an anonymus and private company could ask money to private citizens threatening legal steps. To confirm that they were a real and serious company, after my questions, they sent me the link of their website….

After some mails we arrived to understand that my contract was indeed regurarly closed, but the last bill was not paied. This last bill was sent to my old address, (even though the telephonic company was regularly informed of my new address), therefore could never reach me. In the meaning time this bill increased considerably, and I got informed ten months later by Intrum Justitia, which also pretend to be paied of its service.

I answered that I agreed to pay my bill, but that I didn’t recognize the rest of the debt, and that I would  have not paied their not requested service. They sent me a letter intimidating me to pay in the next 5 days otherwise I would have had legal troubles. Because “it’s duty of the consumers to make sure to have paied all their bills”.

Indipendently of the specific case, what I found outrageous and at the limit of a criminal charge, it’s the request of money from a private, into a short given time, threatening legal actions. This is called EXTORSION.

I therefore decided to don’t answer anymore to Intrum Justitia, but to contact directly the telephonic company. I explained them the situation and I gave my availability to pay what I had to, refusing to pass through Intrum Justitia, which at this point I considered  untrustworthy.

I got a positive answer and I  paied only my bill. The debt was cancelled.

The moral of the story is:

-Always keep your documents well ordered

-Never pay anything without really understanding

-Pay always your debts when is right to do it

-Never be scared of bullies!!!

Sepolcri imbiancati

WP_20150111_013Che le tragedie si trasformino in commedie, sembra sia divenuta una regola nella nostra società. Al centro di questo circo mediatico si esibiscono equilibristi, pagliacci, tigri e domatori. Dopo i vili attacchi terroristici di Parigi, si è potuto ascoltare di tutto, dai complottisti ai razzisti, dai pro-estremisti ai ben pensanti. Ma c’è un atteggiamento fra questi che mi urta sopra tutti gli altri.

L’atteggiamento di coloro che dicono :”Si è una tragedia… pero’ anche loro…“, “Non si ammazza eh, pero’ non si prende in giro la religione“, “Non sono per i terroristi pero’ Je suis pas Charlie“.  Mononeuropodi provvisti di bocca.

Dire che in fondo Charlie Hebdo se l’è cercata è come dire ad una ragazzina stuprata che in fondo non doveva indossare la minigonna, non doveva cercare guai!

A me le vignette di Charlie Hebdo non facevano ridere, era un umorismo sboccacciato, volgare, ma non mi urtavano.  Se qualcuno si sente ferito dalla satira puo’ ricorrere a mezzi pacifici per mostrare il proprio dissenso, denunciare alle autorità giudiziarie, manifestare contro, ma uccidere MAI.

Sembra assurdo doverlo specificare. “Je suis Charlie” è stato un movimento popolare spontaneo, per la libertà di stampa, la libertà di espressione, anche la libertà di sbagliare! Non è stato un movimento di fan della rivista a fumetti, o un movimento di atei di sinistra! E chi pomposamente oggi, come l’intellettuale dell’ultima ora, e col coraggio del leone dietro la tastiera, scrive “Je suis pas Charlie”, non solo dimostra cattivo gusto, ma scarsa intelligenza o in alternativa cattiva coscienza.

Se credete che Dio possa offendersi a causa di semplici uomini,  i blasfemi siete voi! (cit.)  Tutt’al piu’ chi utilizza la volgarità offende se stesso, la sua stessa umanità, e sarà poi un problema della sua coscienza.

Senza citare la ormai celeberrima frase di Voltaire, questo movimento spontaneo è nato in risposta alla violenza con la democrazia e la libertà.  E per tutto questo io mi sento ancora piu’ fortemente Charlie.

Faites l’humeur, pas la guerre

WP_20150107_004La società francese ha risposto al terrore, la società francese è già stata capace di dimostrare ieri, con dignità, rispetto e civiltà, la superiorità di una democrazia partecipata  e universale. Di fronte al disgustoso e brutale uso della violenza di fanatici, che nulla hanno a che vedere con il sentimento religioso, la francia è stata capace di non cadere vittima della paura, di non cedere alla tentazione della violenza. Ci sarà chi nel prossimo futuro approfitterà di questa tragedia per promuovere una cultura d’odio, legittimandosi dietro partiti politici che promuovono la discriminazione. Ma non è stato cosi ieri, di fronte all’orrore.

Sono sceso in piazza con centinaia di altre persone, perchè mi sento parte di questa società, ci vivo, e non è stato un attacco ad un solo Paese ma un attacco alla libertà di espressione e alla dignità dell’uomo. Sono stato profondamente colpito dalla compostezza con la quale la società ha reagito, forte e cosciente della sua identità basata su Libertà, Uguaglianza e Fraternità. Nessuno si è lasciato trasportate da moti di odio e  razzismo, verso una minoranza musulmana francese, che è rispettata e parte integrante di essa. Quando sei forte degli ideali civili in cui credi, non hai bisogno di cedere alla violenza. Questa è stata la miglior risposta che si potesse dare.

Le persone riunite si sono strette per mano girando in circolo. Qualcuno poggiava a terra una candela, altri alzavano in alto una matita, una penna, l’unica arma di democrazia legittima. Molti hanno gridato “Je suis Charlie“, altri “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité“, “Non au racisme” e infine una delle frasi, che sono convinto, avrebbero apprezzato i giornalisti di Charlie Hebdo, “Faites l’humeur, pas la guerre”.